Saturday, March 25, 2017

His fleece was white as snow...

Though spring has just sprung, it still looks like a winter wonderland out there. Two more inches of fluffy white stuff overnight and I'm ready for it to go. The end of March ALWAYS seems to drag on, especially when there's still snow on the ground and not much outside work to do. I mean there's plenty to do, but who wants to skirt fleeces when it's 30 degrees outside? The snow's too deep to prune fruit trees and bushes, unless I want to put on my snowshoes. This is the time of year that I need to keep busy, otherwise I spend too much time speculating on due dates. Just as a watched pot never boils, I keep reminding myself watched ewes don't lamb!

Last Tuesday Claire was starting to bag up. I had back-calculated her lambing due date as the 23rd (Thursday), but she seemed like she might be ready. Early last week I had speculated she would single early so I was certain she'd lamb by the weekend. I brought her in to the lambing pen in the evening and hoped there might be a lamb in the morning. She had been isolating herself all day, and her udder was a clear sign something would happen soon. I always get a little excited for the first lambing, and as usual, I got too excited. She was not happy to be isolated and she seemed quite annoyed that I had locked her up. All day Wednesday she seemed to glare at me and happily much through several armfuls of hay. No lambing behavior, just an udder. So Wednesday night I again hoped there would be lambs in the morning. Nothing.

Thursday morning I had a friend coming by to photograph some products, and by 8 o'clock I knew she would be lambing before noon. Every hour I'd run to the barn to check, and while there was progress, there was no lamb. After seeing my friend off at 11:30, I went back to the barn and there he was. A good sized white ram shaking his head getting licked clean by Claire. A few hours later he was dried off, well fed and a solid 8 lbs. If only I had trusted my calculations and not jumped the gun!

As for everyone else (photos from Thursday)...

 Three generations: Kira, Ella and Daphne.
 Daphne may be next.
 Ella's holding steady.

Myra looks enormous; they all do laying down! The above three should all have lambs by next weekend.

The remainder all have a ways to go. Doris will single, Kira twin and Maggie may single or twin. Mary will twin, Lucy will single and Jeanne may not be bred (again! ERRR).

Monday, March 20, 2017

145 Days

We're two days out from our first potential lambing date. Looking at my notes regarding when the girls seemed interested in the ram, I have added 147 day due dates. Here are the girls today, in my best-guess order:

Claire: Within the next week (3/23).  

Ella and Daphne may also go before Myra, who was the only confirmed breeding and is due on the 31st. Ella is certain to go before, although since Daphne is a first timer, she may be bagging up prematurely and have a ways to go. Ella should be about a week out (3/29) and Daphne just before (3/28), although litter size can also change gestation length. 

Myra is due 3/31 and is showing accordingly. 

Lucy didn't seem to follow the ram at all, so her date is a complete guess. She still has a ways but seems further along than the remainder ewes. She may twin after all and be right along with Kira the first full week of April. Kira looks as if she'll be a few more weeks and my best guess is around April 6th. 

The remainder of the ewes are several weeks away. Maggie and Mary both look as if they'll twin mid-April, with Maggie potentially due around the 14th. Mary was another mystery ewe who showed no interest in the ram but was clearly bred. Doris will very clearly single and is due around the 11th.

Jeanne is again in limbo, as she was last year. I swear I saw lamb movement today, but she has no clear udder. If she lambs, she will single at the end of the season.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Waiting for Warmer Weather

Last week Spring was here, and today it feels like January. Biting winds and snow squalls have blown a layer of snow over the fields that were exposed just last week. It was in the high fifties when we sheared all 28 sheep last Wednesday. The animals seemed content and it made for a pleasant morning to be in the barn. After a few days to adjust in the barn, the non-bred ewes went out to the lower paddock and run-in and the ram and his wethers to the back paddock on Monday. Since then the temperature keeps dropping and each morning we get a surprise dusting of fresh snow. Saturday's high is projected to be only 5 degrees! With extra straw and lots of hay, the sheep will manage, but it does make for some unpleasant chores. 

Now that everyone is bare, it's that time of year when I assess lambing dates and numbers. Our lambing season could begin in two weeks and should wrap-up by the third week in April. This should give our lambs enough time to play in the paddock before being let out on pasture. It looks like the girls will wait until April before lambs really start coming, as Myra is due on the 31st, and she seems to have the largest udder. Many of the girls have barely an udder, and a few are barely showing.

We have ten bred ewes, one of which I'm not completely confident is bred, and most are experienced ewes. Given previous years' records and photos, I like to make predictions as soon after shearing as possible. So, here it goes:

Kira (9 years old)
Prior lambing: twins ('11), triplets ('12), triplets ('13), twins ('15)
I'm guessing she'll have triplets mid-April. There is very little sign of an udder and she's is very large.

Maggie (7 years old)
Prior lambing: twins ('12), twins ('13), twins ('14), twins ('15)
I'm guessing she'll twin mid-April. Again, barely an udder and not that wide. 
Claire (6)
Prior lambing: twins ('13), twins ('14), single ('15)
Twins before Maggie.
Ella (5)
Prior lambing: twins ('14), twins ('15), twins ('16) 
Twins or triplets in two to three weeks. Shown with Doris and Myra.
Mary (4)
Prior lambing: single ('15), twins ('16)
Twins in four or five weeks.
Myra (4)
Prior lambing: twins ('15), twins ('16)
Twins in three weeks; she's due on the 31st.
Lucy (3)
Prior lambing: single ('16)
Single in four or five weeks. Shown with Mary.
Jeanne (3)
Prior lambing: none; exposed for 2016 lambs.
Single at end of season. Pretty sure she's bred, but it's hard to tell.
Doris (2)
First time.
Single at the end of the season. Very slight udder is forming. Shown next to Ella.

Daphne (2)
First time.
Either an earlier single or twins in a month.

So, at least sixteen lambs and as many as 20. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

(At least) Half Way to Lambing

In six weeks the ewes could start lambing (March 23rd), and by the end of eleven weeks (April 24th) we should have close to twenty lambs on the ground! Shearing should be the last week of February, giving us a four to eight week window post-shearing prior to lambs. During this time the ewes are also vaccinated and get a hoof trimming.

Allante, our ram.

The girls (all 24!) enjoying a meal from the round bale.

Effie, one of five yearlings.

Emma, another yearling. I can't wait to see her fleece!

Myra, looking very round. I'm hoping for twin ewes. She's due March 31st.

Edna was left open.

Claire, with a mouthful.

Electra, one of our two musket yearlings.

Poa, our golden girl. She's retired.

Maggie. Hopefully she's bred.

Kira, demonstrating how the round bale feeder ruins neck wool - ugh.

Jeanne has such long, primitive fleece. It practically touches the ground!

Wynona, our eldest ewe.

Some of the girls are starting to get round, although it's always hard to know who's bred until the wool comes off and forming udders are exposed.

In other news, I just returned from my first Vermont Sheep and Goat Association meeting. I had a fantastic time learning about the organization and meeting other sheep farmers from across the state. Presenters discussed on-farm slaughter and using social media to promote the farm.

I also picked up our latest batch of yarn and our first batch of roving. The next step: sell more yarn! I'm hoping to start selling products online by summer, after shearing and lambing.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Breeding Season is Upon Us

Spring lambs are now in the calendar! Before unveiling next year's lamb possibilities, here's a quick look at our 2016 held ewe lambs. Of our 13 lambs, we have five ewes remaining, although we will probably offer at least one or two next year for sale. To maintain our breeding flock we really only need to retain two or three ewes each year, but it is always hard to limit the selection. Our retained ewes are either white or Ag, meaning musket or grey. Since we are trying to build our grey stock, these girls should help us down the road. The two white ewes are the first in our flock, and since they each came from an Ag ewe, it will be exciting to see if either one throws Ag lambs in the future.

Emma, out of Ella, is a white ewe who may be either black or moorit based (B?B?) since both of her parents are heterozygous black (BBBb). She is white (Awt), which is dominant to grey (Ag) and solid (Aa), so she will either throw white and grey/musket lambs or white and black/moorit lambs. She will have to be bred to a solid ram to determine which genotype she carries.

Electra, out of Myra, is a musket ewe. It is interesting to note that of Myra's four lambs, three have been moorit-based. Not that this changes the odds, but it would be nice if she had a black ewe this coming spring! This ewe is very well built and has very dense, even fleece. If breed to  a ram with exceptionally soft fleece, she could throw some really nice lambs in 2018. (BbBb/AgAa)

Poppy, out of Mary, is another musket ewe and our bottle lamb. While not quite up to our breeding standards (primarily due to a longer tail), she is a real cuddle-bug! It is interesting to note the differences between Electra and Poppy, especially given they are both solid musket ewes with the same sire and same maternal grand-sire. I am anxious to compare fleeces come March and see how these two ewes look next fall.

Effie, out of Cali, is a great example of the importance of using a top-notch ram. She has superior conformation to her mother, but currently lacks in fleece quality. Cali's fleece has consistently improved since she was a lamb, so I have high hopes for this ewe. Her fleece is simply long and wavy by comparison, much like her father's, only better. She is another AgAa ewe, but it is unclear if she is homozygous or heterozygous black (BBBB or BBBb).

Eleanore, out of Madeleine, is a very alert white ewe. Her make-up is similar to Emma's, having the possibility to be either black or moorit and either Ag or solid. She has a very dense fleece and is built very upright. Thus far she is shier than the other lambs, but I am hoping she can warm up to us and become part of next year's breeding group. Madeleine is five, and of four sets of triplets I have yet to keep a single ewe out of her. This ewe has superior conformation to her mother, but she did not inherit her sit-in-your-lap personality.

Overall, this year's lambs are far friendlier than past lambs. I worked hard at keeping the shy adults out of the pasture until this fall, and it seems to be paying off.

A few notes on the rams. All of Deane's offspring were Ag, so I am assuming that he is AgAg, as both his parents were AgAa. Allante threw white, moorit and black lambs; however, since his only black lamb was out of a grey ewe (BBBb/AgAa), it is uncertain if he will throw black. Given he had a black spot on his shoulder at shearing last February, I suspect he is BBBb.

As for this year's breeding, I chose to only use one ram, Allante. His lambs had superior fleece, which is what we need to improve, and while Deane did produce very square lambs,  he is very heavily related to the flock.

On October 24th ten of our twelve breeding ewes were exposed to Allante. Only Edna and Madeleine were given the year off. I chose a mix of ewes and exposed all of our black and grey ewes to hopefully increase our chances of a black ewe or two! All shades of moorit are represented in this year's group, from a dark moorit to a light musket. The ewes range in age from two to eight and represent a range of fleece types. If all goes as planned, we should have between 13 and 20 lambs (I'm guessing 17) by the end of April, half of which should be white and the other half a mix of moorit and black. Our proportion of grey and musket ewes should be down from this year, which will be a nice contrast to the ewe lambs being held over.

Kira is our oldest ewe this year. At 8, this will be her fifth pregnancy and may be her last. She has produced exceptional lambs with exciting coloration, and is an excellent mother. She has had three sets of triplets and a set of twins, and we have retained and used two of her rams for breeding. A solid musket ewe, she always throws musket or grey lambs, indicating she is AgAg. Paired with Allante, lambs could be grey, musket or white and will most likely be solid and have very sturdy conformations. Since she was left open last year and is in great condition, she will probably at least twin.

Maggie is six and our oldest ewe born on the farm. Another ewe who was left open for 2016 lambs and is quite large heading into breeding season. Maggie has produced four sets of twins in the past, and given her current conditioning, I'm guessing she'll have at least twins next spring. Maggie has a primitive fawn fleece but, when bred to rams with exceptional fleece in the past, has produced very nicely fleeced lambs. Given her AaAa genotype, lambs out of Maggie with either be white, black or moorit. They could also carry a modifier, resulting in fawn or shaela lambs.

Claire is our sole mioget ewe. At five, this will be her third pregnancy. Another ewe with a primitive fleece, Allante should improve her offspring in this area. She has singled and had a set of twins, but she comes from a line of ewes who consistently twin; twins are a safe bet. Given that she is mioget, her lambs will either be white, black or moorit-based.

Ella is a four-year-old grey ewe. This will be her fourth lambing, and a repeat breeding from last year. I loved her white ewe lambs so much that I just couldn't resist pairing her with Allante again! She will most likely get next year off, as this will make her fourth straight year of lambing, which is why I'm guessing she'll single. Ella has only produced grey, musket or white lambs, but is AgAa and could produce black or moorit. Of her previous six lambs, five have been ewes and only one has been moorit-based. Paired with Allante, her lambs could be any color.

Mary and Myra are both three-year-old ewes sired by PikeHill Cedar. They are out of a mother-daughter pair of ewes, making Mary Myra's aunt. In otherwords, Mary's dam is Myra's grand-dam. Each ewe has lambed during the past two breeding cycles; however, Myra is a far better mother than Mary, who last year abandoned her ewe. Myra has slightly higher chances of throwing black lambs than Mary, but either could produce black, moorit or white with Allante. Their lambs should have exceptional conformation and fleece. From the pair, they produced two ewes out of seven lambs in the past.

Lucy is the only other repeat breeding. This will be her second pairing with Allante, the first of which resulted in a single black ram. He was beautiful, and so it will be exciting to see what they produce this year. Lucy is grey, but heavily spotted white, and she carries moorit (BBBb) and solid (AgAa). Her lambs could be white, black, moorit, musket or black. They could be wildly spotted or spotless.

Jeanne is two and has yet to lamb. She was paired with Allante last year for 22 days and was left open. She is a very shy ewe and has already been spotted fleeing from Allante. I am going to try leaving him in for an extra week this year to make sure he has sufficient time to settle her. She is a very square ewe with a stunning primitive fleece. A dark moorit, I am anxious to see lambs out of her. Her mother easily produced twins, so this could be another opportunity for two more lovely lambs.

Daphne is one of two yearling ewes. She is a darker grey ewe out of Ella who could be either BBBb or BBBB. If the later is true, she will not produce any moorit-based lambs. Since both her dam and sire were grey, she could also be AgAg or AgAa. If the former is true, she will not be able to throw moorit or black, only white, grey and musket. Though one year probably won't allow me to determine her genotype, it could be possible for her to only throw grey lambs (or white). Since she comes from a long line of twins and triplets, and since she has an incredibly deep torso, she may easily twin on her first breeding.

Finally, Doris is the other yearling ewe. She is a fawn ewe and will most likely single. Though she is tall, she has a much shorter body, and her mother singled twice out of six pregnancies.

In the past 10 days there has been wildly fluctuating interests on the parts of the ewes. Each day, a new ewe or two will follow Allante around the paddock; I'm assuming this is a sign that they are cycling. He has shown great interest in all of the ewes and has been flying round the paddock in mad pursuit.  Hopefully this time around he'll settle Jeanne and maybe next year I'll even get a nice black ewe lamb or two from him!